Two sharp novellas that vividly complement each other.

READ REVIEW

NEW YORK/SIENA

TWO SHORT NOVELS

Adult boys become adult men in Meyers' first book of two short novels.

At face value, Episcopalian Father Stackpole and Gary, an art history professor, have little in common. In The Man Who Owned New York, which takes place in the early 1900s, Stackpole works for All Angels church, a congregation that invests, builds and prospers—all thanks to owning a big chunk of New York City real estate. When a Kansas farmer calls the church’s land ownership fraudulent, Stackpole is forced to reconcile his own beliefs in the separation of church and bank with the practices of his congregation, while simultaneously vying for the favor of the claimant’s beautiful daughter. In Springtime in Siena, a study trip in Italy is revealed to be a sex-cation, with Gary taking his part in seducing students and townspeople. On this trip, Gary, in his late 20s, finds himself attracted to a woman for the first time, and he confronts his growing interest in the opposite gender. The two novellas are similar and different at the same time. Both are written as memoirs and focus on the transition from frantic adulthood into genuine maturity. Both men are involved in intense relationships for their respective times. Stackpole’s actions are cautiously prescribed per the rules of 1900s courting but include stealing kisses and secret dates. Gary’s boldness reflects a free-love era that seeped into the ’70s. Each story has a dramatically different writing style that plays into the contrast. Stackpole’s story is told with antiquated language, which can feel contrived at times, even as the author fixes Stackpole firmly in time by using flowing sentence structures common in bygone novels, where women are ladies and anger comes off as a devastating betrayal. On the other hand, Michael lives among brusquely described encounters and desires, where sex is a four-letter word and mechanical detail in the bedroom is a matter of course. By expertly separating these stories using substance and style, the author presents two distinct American men in two distinct eras—evidence that the tumultuous transition into adulthood transcends time.

Two sharp novellas that vividly complement each other.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1621418597

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Booklocker.com, Inc.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2012

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Pleasurable wish fulfillment for Hillary fans.

RODHAM

How would Hillary Rodham’s life—and our world—be different if she had never married Bill Clinton?

In American Wife (2008), Sittenfeld imagined her way into Laura Bush’s head in the guise of a character named Alice Blackwell. In her new novel, she doesn’t bother to change the protagonists’ names, and we’re introduced to Hillary Rodham as she’s about to give her famous Wellesley College graduation speech and has an intimation of her “own singular future.” She goes to Yale, meets a charismatic former Rhodes Scholar, falls in love, catches him cheating on her, and follows him to Arkansas anyway. They try to come up with ways to tame Bill’s libido: “Maybe—what if—if I wanted it and you didn’t,” he asks her, “would you think it was disgusting if I laid next to you and touched myself?” That works for her. “Mapping out the future, coming up with strategies and plans—these were things we were good at,” she thinks. But then she decides not to marry him, and the history of the United States goes off in a different direction. The captivating thing about American Wife was imagining an inner life for Laura Bush, a First Lady who was something of a cipher, and in particular imagining that her politics were different from her husband’s. Sittenfeld sets herself an opposite task in this book, creating an interior world for a woman everyone thinks they know. This Hillary tracks with the real person who’s been living in public all these years, and it’s enjoyable to hear her think about her own desires, her strengths and weaknesses, her vulnerabilities and self-justifications; it’s also fun to see how familiar events would still occur under different circumstances. (Watch what happens when Bill Clinton appears on 60 Minutes with a less-astute wife at his side.) But there isn't much here that will surprise you.

Pleasurable wish fulfillment for Hillary fans.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-399-59091-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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